Have you heard the news? The houseplant tradescantia zebrina is no longer called the Wandering Jew. A lot of people are still using this popular nickname, but there is also a groundswell of houseplant enthusiasts advocating for a different name. Not sure what the controversy is about? Not sure where you stand on the issue. Here is what you need to know about calling this popular houseplant a Wandering Jew and what alternate names you can use instead.
Why Do We Need a Different Name for the Wandering Jew Plant?
Some people don’t like using groups of people as mascots. They consider the very idea offensive, another way of objectifying people. The most common counterargument is that these mascots celebrate and/or remind us of peoples’ heritage and our shared humanity. So long as these mascots don’t denigrate the communities they claim to honor, what’s the harm? In our opinion, these factors must be considered on a case-by-case basis. More to this point, it’s a great opportunity to understand the history and myth of the Wandering Jew.
The Wandering Jew is NOT Moses: If you haven’t studied Jewish history, you might assume that the Wandering Jew is Moses and the other Jewish people who wandered in the desert for all those years. Don’t make this mistake. Not anymore. If nothing else, save yourself the embarrassment of being corrected by someone who knows the actual myth and history.
The Wandering Jew has Become a Deicidal Myth: All too commonly, the Wandering Jew is depicted as someone who taunted Jesus during the crucifixion and was then cursed to wander the earth until the Second Coming. The myth of the Wandering Jew was first popularized in 13th Century Europe. Since that time, the story has been used as justification for violence and as part of a larger antisemitic trope in which people of Jewish faith and heritage are blamed for Jesus’ death. In fact, there is no historical evidence to support this myth. In 2011, the pope concurred that Jews were not responsible for the crucifixion.
Isaac was the Original Wandering Jew: Jewish scholars point to a different within their faith that could serve as the original Wandering Jew. Specifically, Isaac, the son of Abraham, became wealthy by raising crops in the land of the Philistines, who then cast Isaac out of their lands for his riches. In this version, Isaac started digging wells on his travels and increased his wealth even more. The Philistine lords then apologized and welcomed Isaac back in the hopes of currying favor.
Thus, if you’re going to continue to call your houseplant a Wandering Jew, then we recommend you help reclaim the nickname by framing the choice within the Jewish tradition.
Other Names for the Wandering Jew
- Inch Plant: This is our favorite alternative. It keeps the relevance of a nickname that describes the plant’s rapid, sprawling growth. Typically, the leaf nodes and purple flowers are spaced an inch apart. It’s also sometimes said that during the growing season tradescantia zebrina can grow an inch and new leaf node every single week. Which is an exaggeration but not by much.
- Wandering Dude: A simple variant of Wandering Jew, this nickname makes us wonder whether dude doesn’t indicate a type of person and makes for a poor mascot. Plus, we’re just not crazy about how it sounds. Still, it’s a common alternative.
- Spiderwort: Tradescantia zebrina is, in fact, a spiderwort plant. The only problem is that there are several kinds of tradescantia, or spiderwort, plants. But if you’re looking for a polite way to describe this houseplant, you can say, “It’s a special kind of spiderwort plant.” Other popular types include the Amethyst Kiss, Concord Grape, Red Grape, and Sweet Kate.